Of all the legumes, chick peas are the tastiest, and they adapt to variety of dishes.
You can tell they’re my favourite legume! Their nut-like flavour works for breakfast, lunch or dinner, either as the main star or as a bit player. Plus they do great service in snacks and sweets.
They appear in cuisines across the world, from the delicious Arabic dip hummus (which means ‘chickpea’) to chana dal in India, to Burmese tofu (a kind of chickpea polenta). The Spanish and Portuguese use them in soups and salads. The French make a flatbread called socca, and the Italian’s make an oven-baked pancake called farinata. More recently chickpeas are being used to make aquafaba, a vegan substitute for egg whites.
And they are not peas at all, being from a different legume species Cicer arietinum.
We can hear the echo of the Latin roots of their English name in the Italian ceci, pronounced as ‘chay-chee’.
Their English name has come directly from the French version ciche.
The two most common types of this very adaptable ‘pea’ are the desi and the kabuli, also known as the garbanzo bean.
The larger, beige-coloured garbanzo or kabuli (meaning “from Kabul” in Afghanistan) is similar in size and shape to a hazelnut, and is probably more familiar to most people. The name garbanzo comes from the Spanish via Latin America and the USA.
The smaller desi (which means ‘country’ or ‘local’ in Hindustani) is darker with a rough coat.
In India desi chickpeas are also sundried to produce kala or black chickpeas, known as Bengal gram.
At Kialla we skin, split and polish the desi chickpeas to make our Organic Chick Pea Splits.
They look very similar to yellow split peas – next time try chick pea splits in your pea and ham soup.
Their smaller size makes them a great option for thickening soups and stews since they soften faster than the larger garbanzos, while imparting the same flavour and substance.
Is there a difference between chick pea flour and besan flour?
If you’re in the US you may find chick pea flour made with garbanzos. It’s not that common in Australia. Whenever an Indian recipe calls for “chickpea flour”, it is referring to besan (from desi chickpeas) and not garbanzo bean flour.
Over at Gluten Free Kitchen Blavinder has actually made flour from both kabuli and desi chickpeas and tested it on several recipes. She has found it performs in a similar way. Besan has a more distinctive flavour, while garbanzo flour is more neutral.
We use desi chickpeas at Kialla to make Organic Besan Flour, retaining some of the dark outer skin.
These are the flecks you can see in the flour, which gives it more flavour and colour. Our besan flour works well in any recipe that calls for chickpea flour, such as batter, biscuits and pastry. However it’s not so commonly used in cakes.
Not only do chickpeas taste great, growing them helps to improve soil health.
Organic farmers use chickpeas as ‘cover’ crops to fix nitrogen in the soil.
Nitrogen is an essential ingredient for healthy crops, and in conventional farming it’s added as a fertiliser, such as urea. This approach to supplementing crop performance presents problems in the long term, including polluted waterways from soil run-off. And a narrow focus on crop yield fails to consider all the requirements for real soil health.
Applying nitrogen as fertiliser will produce green and healthy looking plants, but it’s similar to focusing on taking, for example, only vitamin D in the expectation that this is all you need for health.
Organic farming works with natural systems and this is why cover crops provide a more wholistic approach. Natural systems are complex systems where no single ingredient works independently of any other ingredients. Thus, while a crop of chick peas fixes nitrogen in the soil, it also supports healthy soils in ways that are not yet fully understood by agronomists.
The larger kabuli chickpeas are more challenging to grow organically since they are more prone to diseases. For this reason most of our farmers choose to grow the desi variety, which is why we only use these in our products.
Chickpeas are a great source of proteins and minerals.
For vegans and vegetarians chick peas are a superb source of protein. Cooking them also increases the digestibility of their proteins, particularly when eaten in combination with other grains.
They are a great source of minerals like folate, calcium, manganese, potassium, phosphorus and molybdenum. They’re also high in insoluble fibre, metabolised by our gut bacteria into short chain fatty acids, which are excellent for digestive health and protection against colon cancer. (1)
Their soluble fibre and antioxidant profile also supports healthy hearts and blood vessels, while providing alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which our bodies use to manufacture omega-3 fats. (2)(3)(4)
Chickpeas are one of the earliest cultivated legumes.
5000 year old chickpeas remnants have been found by archaeologists in Jericho and Turkey, while in southern France the remains of wild chickpeas have been carbon dated to around 6800 BCE.
The classical Greeks enjoyed them in desserts or ate them raw while they were still young peas. Romans cooked them as a broth or roasted them as a snack.
It has been suggested that the ‘chomets’ in the Old Testament’s Book of Ruth was an early version of Palestinian chickpea paste ‘chummuts’, which is like hummus.(5)
Desi chickpeas are a more ancient variety since they are similar to seeds found in archaeological sites, and they resemble their wild plant ancestor Cicer reticulatum. Chickpeas are believed to have originated in southeast Turkey.
How to cook your chick peas.
Since chickpeas don’t contain gluten they’re an excellent substitute for wheat flours in batters and baked goods. Besan flour is a popular ingredient in Indian batters, flatbreads and sweets. Use it in place of wheat flour in your next batter. Or add to biscuits and pastry for extra crispiness.
When using the chick pea splits, always soak them first to improve digestibility and reduce cooking time.
I like to soak them overnight, but as little as a 3-4 hour soak will suffice.
When boiling legumes, don’t add salt as this will tend to toughen them.
Find recipes for besan flour over on our recipes page.
1) Hernandez-Salazar M, Osorio-Diaz P, Loarca-Pina G et al. In vitro fermentability and antioxidant capacity of the indigestible fraction of cooked black beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.), lentils (Lens culinaris L.) and chickpeas (Cicer arietinum L.). J Sci Food Agric. 2010 Jul;90(9):1417-22. 2010.
2) Pittaway JK, Ahuja KDK, Cehun M et al. Dietary Supplementation with Chickpeas for at Least 5 Weeks Results in Small but Significant Reductions in Serum Total and Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterols in Adult Women and Men. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism. Basel: Feb 2007. Vol. 50, Iss. 6; p. 512-518. 2007.
3) Pittaway JK, Ahuja KDK, Robertson IK et al. Effects of a Controlled Diet Supplemented with Chickpeas on Serum Lipids, Glucose Tolerance, Satiety and Bowel Function. J. Am. Coll. Nutr., Aug 2007; 26: 334 – 340. 2007.
4) Pittaway JK, Robertson IK and Ball MJ. Chickpeas may influence fatty acid and fiber intake in an ad libitum diet, leading to small improvements in serum lipid profile and glycemic control. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Jun;108(6):1009-13. 2008.
5) Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Volume 4, edited by G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, pg 492.